The People v. Jon
Disappearance of John Davies
In November 1981,
defendant, then 21 years old, was a close friend of the Davies family,
in Belmont. He often visited the Davies residence and spent time with
17-year-old Mark Davies and his 15-year-old brother John.
On the morning
Sunday, November 8, 1981, James Davies called the police to report his
missing. Davies and his wife, Joan, had returned home around 1:30 a.m.
noticed nothing amiss.
Joan had found John missing when she opened his
door sometime after 8:30 a.m. John had laid out his church clothes and
behind all his possessions, including his only pair of shoes.
informed his parents of his whereabouts and, according to them, was not
of child who would be expected to run away. James and Joan Davies
made extensive efforts to locate John for several years after he
Soon after the disappearance, James Davies called defendant to come over
help post flyers describing John. Defendant came over on the Wednesday
Thursday after the Sunday John was reported missing, and left with some
He never visited the Davies family again.
Mark Davies testified that
disappeared, defendant would comeby the Davies residence in his white
automobile. If he came to visit in the evening, he would throw rocks at
window so Mark could sneak out of the house without his parents’
would drive to the Hassler Hospital site off Woodside Road and Highway
explore the partially abandoned grounds. Mark last saw his brother John
Saturday, November 7, about 10:30 p.m., when Mark went to bed. Mark
from defendant after John’s disappearance.
Joan Davies testified that when defendant visited her sons, they would
sit in defendant’s car listening to music.
Initially, police theorized
run away. Belmont Police Detective Jerrold Whaley contacted defendant in
mid-1982, and defendant told him where John liked to hang out. Because
Davies family reported that defendant was John’s closest friend, Whaley
contacted defendant often. By September 1984 the police were treating
disappearance as a possible kidnapping and had contacted the Federal
Investigation (FBI) for assistance.
On December 4, 1984, Whaley and FBI
Robert Deklinski twice interviewed defendant at his residence near
In the first interview, defendant denied seeing John on Saturday,
1981, claiming he did not leave his parents’ home that evening, and
throwing rocks to summon Mark or John and sitting in his car listening
In the second interview, Whaley and Deklinski probed the
discrepancies between the Davies family members’ and defendant’s
defendant was emphatic that he had neither thrown rocks at the boys’
windows nor listened to music with John in his car. Defendant also
denied he had
ever traveled with John to a hangout he called the “morgue,” evidently
Hassler Hospital grounds.
2. Murder of Lance Turner
On October 2, 1984,
7:00 p.m., Belmont resident Margaret Turner called the police to report
12-year-old son, Lance, missing from soccer practice. That day, Timothy
had driven his two sons and Lance to soccer practice at the fields
Ralston Intermediate School.
O’Brien began coaching his team and did not
Lance again. Later, when the practice ended, O’Brien asked Lance’s
Williamson, where Lance was. Williamson told him Lance was not at
day. Several boys reported seeing Lance head
toward Waterdog Lake, three-eighths of a mile from the soccer field. A
William Russell arrived at 6:00 p.m. to pick up his son from
practice and, after taking his son home, joined the search for Lance.
p.m., Russell shined a flashlight onto some bushes in a gully off the
Waterdog Lake and saw feet sticking out of the bushes. Lance’s body was
under the overgrown brush.
Pathologist Peter Benson, M.D., testified
died from blood loss due to multiple stab wounds. Two wounds to the
each fatal; two other wounds to the lungs were potentially life
There were numerous defensive wounds to the arms and hands, as well as
scratches, scrapes and bruises.
Stephanie Olson, Kendra Durham, and
Guthrie, students at Ralston Intermediate School at the time of the
homicide, testified that about 3:00 p.m. on October 2, 1984, they left
skipping volleyball practice, and went down to Waterdog Lake to smoke
cigarettes. A man whom Stephanie described as having dirty blond hair,
and dirty teeth with a retainer approached them and started a
told them his name was Jon and said he had graduated from Carlmont High
the year before. He was drinking beer from a tall Budweiser can, which
offered to the girls.
The girls left after about 20 minutes. Another
student saw a man with dirty blond hair near Waterdog Lake about 4:00
of these witnesses was asked to identify defendant in the courtroom.
Durham and Guthrie gave the police a description of the man that was
incorporated into a composite drawing used in the investigation of the
homicide. As discussed below (post, p. 7), in his confession to FBI
defendant described talking with the three girls shortly before he
3. Investigation of Davies and Turner murders
On December 27, 1984, Belmont
Police Detective Sergeant James Goulart interviewed defendant concerning
Turner homicide. Defendant was by then the only suspect in the crime.
Goulart advised him of his constitutional rights, and he agreed to speak
Goulart. Defendant denied having been at Waterdog Lake on October 2,
claiming he had been at home until noon and then had gone to stores in
City to fill out employment applications, returning home by bus at 4:30
Later police contacts with those businesses turned up no such
January 1985, in an effort to gather information about the Turner
Belmont Police Officer Lisa Thomas began working undercover at the
Carl’s Jr. restaurant where defendant was employed. There she
defendant several days a week, regularly visited him at his sister’s
where he was residing, and sometimes went to a bar or movie with
often spoke with Thomas about newspaper reports on the investigations, at
point showing her a collection of clippings.
On February 9, 1985,
her the police and the FBI had been in his home for five hours,
and that he had lied to them. To Thomas, he maintained his innocence,
that on the day Turner was killed he had gone to Redwood City to fill
applications. Defendant seemed impressed with the attention he was
In May 1986, James and Joan Davies met with defendant for
seeking information about John. Defendant said he had none. Joan Davies
defendant again in July 1986, and he continued to insist he had no
On September 16, 1986, Charles Rice told Michael Wiley, a law
investigator for the State of California, that defendant had admitted to
killing John Davies and Lance Turner. (During the penalty phase, the
informed that Rice was defendant’s cellmate at the state prison in San
Obispo on that date. Defendant was then incarcerated on a burglary
arising out of an incident discussed post, at pages 72-75, in connection
related appellate contention.)
Wiley testified that Rice voluntarily
statement, asking nothing in return, and insisted on trying to obtain
information from defendant because he was appalled by the killings.
22, 1986, Rice gave investigators two maps, drawn by defendant, of the
scenes. A week later, defendant met with Rice, who was wearing a
transmitter, and described the Davies and Turner murders in graphic
Defendant refused to report the crimes to the Belmont police because he
trust them. He said he did trust the FBI, however, so Rice told
defendant he had
a friend who was an FBI agent and would help defendant if he confessed
Prison officials arranged to find an FBI agent to take the confession.
October 3, 1986, FBI Special Agents Frank Hickey and Daniel Payne
defendant at the state prison in San Luis Obispo. Rice was also present.
Defendant was advised of his constitutional rights and signed a waiver.
Defendant stated that, before killing John Davies, he was at Half Moon
three friends, drinking whisky and smoking marijuana. He then drove to
Davies residence, parked a few doors down the street, and entered
unlocked door. He went to John’s bedroom and invited him to come and
John agreed, and went with defendant to Edgewood Park in Redwood
City near the
Crystal Springs Reservoir. John was wearing a black T-shirt, blue
and no socks or shoes. Defendant parked near a shooting range and, before
the car, removed a knife from the glove compartment. At that point, he
“committed” himself to killing John. They walked half a mile to two
miles down a
dirt road. Defendant then stabbed John in the back, sat on his chest
and stabbed him in the throat. When John struggled, defendant picked up
rock and struck him in the head.
Defendant then dragged the body to an
in the ground, pushed it in and left the scene, later disposing of his
bloodstained clothing. A week after the murder, defendant returned to
and observed that the body was bloated and animals were feeding on it.
1984, he returned again and observed a skull.
Asked about a motive for
John Davies, defendant said that when he drank beer and smoked marijuana
became aggressive. He also noted that John used to cause a computer
flash irritating statements that defendant would observe, and this
Defendant drew a map for the investigators illustrating the location of
Regarding the murder of Lance Turner, defendant stated that on
2, 1984, he was in the process of moving from Belmont to another part of
state. On that day, he bought a six-pack of beer and went to the park
Waterdog Lake to drink it. At 2:30 p.m., after some three hours at the
went to an area near Ralston School. He climbed a tree known as the
tree” and used his buck-type hunting knife to stab at it. Three
junior-high-school-age girls came to the tree looking for a pack of
and dug up a matchbook with a distinctive inscription. The girls shared
defendant’s last beer and one of them offered him a marijuana cigarette.
point defendant saw a boy wearing athletic clothes run down the hill.
girls left, defendant stayed for another five minutes. Then, as he
toward the dock, he saw the boy jogging in the area. To get his
defendant asked him the time. The boy responded that it was 3:50, and
away. As he turned, defendant stabbed him in the side with his hunting
The boy struggled as defendant stabbed him a second time, then went
down to the
ground and complied with defendant’s command to put his leg down.
course of the struggle, the boy bit defendant so severely on the thumb
later lost the nail. Defendant stabbed him again, in the throat, and yet
fourth time near the heart. The boy then appeared dead. Defendant moved
under some low bushes and went home. He later disposed of the knife and
in separate places and discarded his shoes out of concern that their
could be identified. He correctly described a birthmark on the side of
Using a map defendant had drawn, Belmont police searched for John
remains and found items of clothing, bones and a skull. A forensic
who examined the skull testified it was consistent with that of a young
Caucasian male and bore evidence of blunt force trauma that could have
been inflicted by a rock. Orthodontist Stan Wolken compared X-rays of his
patient, John Davies, with X-rays of the remains, finding similarities
On October 6, 1984, defendant led investigators into a field near
Carmichael residence and pointed out the shrubbery where he had
the knife he had used to kill Lance Turner. With the help of a metal
investigators found a folding Puma brand knife.
On two occasions in
1986, for 45 minutes and five hours respectively, Psychiatrist James
met with defendant at the request of the district attorney’s office. Dr.
read defendant his constitutional rights at the outset of each interview
defendant waived them. Defendant described having an interest in reading
newspaper accounts of killings when he was in elementary school. He
doing so in fifth grade because “homicides weren’t part of my everyday
sixth grade, defendant became aware that he wanted to kill someone after
watching a movie in which an older boy was about to kill a younger boy
prevent him from disclosing a diary containing references to other
About the Davies murder, defendant said: “I thought to myself[,] you
got someone out in the middle of nowhere, here is your chance to kill
have thought of killing someone before.”
After describing how he
stabbed Davies, defendant told Dr. Missett he pinned Davies down with
on his shoulders and, when Davies asked what he planned to do, defendant
was going to kill him. He told Davies to scream all he wanted before
him in the throat and strangling him with his hands. Defendant said he
tothink whether he wanted to go through with it before he picked up a
hit Davies three times on the right side of the head.
B. Penalty Phase
Prosecution case in aggravation
The prosecution introduced evidence that
defendant had attempted, in separate incidents, to kill Steve Murphy and
Hansen, and had murdered Sean Dannehl. The prosecution also presented
described below in connection with related contentions (see pp. 68-72,
defendant’s threat to kill jail nurse Angela Beck and his burglary of
of Richard Rennie.
a. Attempted murder of Steve Murphy
On November 5,
16-year-old Steve Murphy attended a party at a friend’s house in San
Leaving the party around 11:30 p.m., he walked another friend home.
heading toward his own residence, 15 to 20 houses away, when he lost
consciousness. He awoke after daylight the next morning near a large
surrounded by trees. He fell unconscious again and next woke up in a
discovering that his spleen and a kidney had been surgically removed. He
the next three weeks in the hospital with broken ribs and a broken
injuries caused him to miss several months of school.
In October 1986,
obtaining a waiver of constitutional rights, San Mateo Police Officer
Farmer spoke with defendant about the assault on Murphy. Defendant
had been drinking alcohol on the beach before
driving his car up the hill on 42d Avenue in San Mateo. He saw someone
on 42d Avenue and made two or three right turns to encounter the person
He deliberately ran over the person, put him in the back of his car, and
himto an isolated area in Belmont at the Marburger turnaround. He took
person out of the car and laid him on the roadway. Defendant referred to
person as “Steve Murphy,” but did not explain how he had learned the
b. Attempted murder of Monte Hansen
In 1982, Monte Hansen, then 16
old, often went out drinking with defendant. On New Year’s Eve that
invited defendant to come to his house, as his parents were out.
arrived shortly before midnight, apparently under the influence of
told Hansen he felt dizzy. Hansen told him to drink some water and went
the backyard to smoke a cigarette. There, he turned to observe defendant
approaching him, a two-by-four-inch board studded with nails in his
Defendant struck at Hansen with the board. One blow hit him in the head,
Hansen blocked the rest of the blows with his forearm. Defendant was
he attacked Hansen. Defendant then reentered the house and Hansen saw
him put a
knife back in a kitchen cabinet. Hansen screamed at defendant to get out
told defendant he would kill him if he harmed his little brother, who
in a bedroom. Defendant ran toward his car and Hansen never saw him
February 28, 1985, undercover officer Lisa Thomas told defendant a false
about her involvement in a hit-and-run accident. Defendant then told her
had run over Steve Murphy and assaulted Monte Hansen; a recording of the
conversation was played for the jury.
c. Murder of Sean Dannehl
Around 6:00 p.m. on July 2, 1985,
Dannehl went to a friend’s house in Sacramento, riding his bicycle. When
not return home by 9:00 p.m., his mother called the friend’s house and
Sean had left around 7:30. His father and mother and her husband
him. His body was found six days later at Lower Sunrise Park. A board
nail in it and a beer can were found at the scene.
An autopsy revealed
of death to be two stab wounds to the heart, one penetrating a rib,
something thick, pointed and dense, consistent with a marijuana pipe
also suffered a perforating wound to the skull consistent with the
board. Insect activity in the facial and neck area also suggested the
of some type of wound there.
Sacramento Detective Robert Bell questioned
defendant on July 5, 1985. Defendant said he did not know about the
but he admitted that on July 2 he was on a bicycle trail at Lower
drinking beer with friends until about 8:30 p.m., when he rode home. He
a flat tire prevented him from arriving at home before 10:00 p.m. Anton
and Paul Stanley confirmed they were on the bicycle trail with defendant
day, drinking beer and smoking marijuana until they parted around
Sean’s body was found, Detective Bell contacted defendant, who agreed to
accompany investigators to the police station. After waiving his
rights, defendant denied knowing anything about Sean’s murder.
drove defendant to his sister’s residence, where he was staying.
his sister agreed to a search of the house; no evidence was found.
later voluntarily returned to the police station to provide hair, blood
saliva samples. The next day, July 10, 1985, defendant showed Detective
where on the bicycle trail he had had a flat tire and where he and his
friends had met to drink beer. Defendant also assisted investigators in
searching for his missing marijuana pipe tool, accompanying them to
smoke shops and finding one tool he said resembled the one he had lost.
15, 1985, defendant telephoned Detective Bell to tell him Paul Stanley’s
might be found on his (defendant’s) bicycle because Stanley had fallen
have bled on it.
On August 19, 1985, in an effort to get defendant to
undercover narcotics officer Ronald Goesch, posing as “Ron Cross,” left
at defendant’s house. The letter advised that Cross lived near the
police were pressuring him, and he knew what defendant had done and
communicating with him again. Defendant gave the letter to Detective
Officer Goesch left another letter and called defendant four days later,
to meet with him. Goesch said he knew about “the board” and “other
wanted money or he would go to the police and give them evidence, adding
needed the money to avoid his own arrest. Defendant did not respond and
appear at the time Goesch requested.
After investigators questioned
about the Ron Cross information, defendant telephoned Detective Bell,
the course of the investigation. In the course of the conversation,
asked, hypothetically, what might happen if he confessed to the crime.
asked, hypothetically, if he were at the scene, saw the victim screaming
took no action to save him, whether his inaction would get him in
Department of Corrections Sergeant Michael Wiley took Charles Rice’s
defendant’s confessions. On September 28, 1986, in Wiley’s office, Wiley
overheard defendant describe to Rice, who was wearing a wireless
murders of Lance Turner, John Davies and Sean Dannehl.
On October 3, 1986, following defendant’s agreement to confess to the
to the FBI (see p. 6, ante), FBI Special Agents Frank Hickey and Daniel
asked defendant about the Dannehl murder. Charles Rice was also present
Defendant stated that on July 2, 1985, he had left his
11:30 a.m. and ridden his bicycle to the American River Park, where he
acquaintance, Anton. They bought some beer and went to Anton’s house,
another friend met them.
The three rode their bicycles back to the park
smoked marijuana and continued to drink beer. Defendant drank four tall
and three 12-ounce cans of beer. About 8:30 p.m. they parted, and
his bicycle to a vista point. He saw Sean Dannehl riding his bicycle
Sunrise Boulevard, commenting to Agent Hickey, “I knew right then I was
stop him and kill him.”
He chased after Sean, ramming Sean’s bicycle
own. When Sean fell off his bicycle, defendant grabbed his arm and led
him to a
large tree. Sean cooperated, causing defendant to want to humiliate him,
Sean’s pleas that defendant not hurt him. Defendant forced Sean to take
clothes and put them in a pile. A two-by-four lay in the area; defendant
over Sean’s eyes as he lay on his back. Defendant was carrying an
instrument with a pick, which he thrust into Sean’s chest, near his
Sean protested that defendant had promised not to hurt him, defendant
put a hand
over his mouth and stabbed him again, causing the blade of the
separate from the handle.
Defendant retrieved the blade, screwed it back
the handle and stabbed Sean in the eyes. He then rode his bicycle home,
the handle from the pick along the way and discarding the pieces
home, defendant washed his clothes and buried his bloody socks in a
near a library three blocks from his house. He signed a written
incorporating his confession, drew a map of the crime scene, and gave
investigators a sketch of his pick tool.
Supreme Court upholds death sentence of Peninsula serial killer
California Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the 1990 death sentence of a
Peninsula serial killer, despite the fact his deteriorating mental
condition on death row might prevent the state from ever executing him.
In a unanimous, 104-page ruling, the Supreme Court affirmed Jon Scott Dunkle's death sentence for murdering two Belmont boys in the early
1980s. Dunkle, who also was convicted for killing a third young boy from
Sacramento, was branded a serial killer by police who hunted him for
five years before connecting him to the slayings.
The Supreme Court
three years ago took the unprecedented step of appointing Dunkle's
lawyers as his legal guardians because he could no longer assist in his
appeals and they needed legal authority to continue to pursue legal
options on his behalf.
A trial judge and prison psychiatrists have
concluded Dunkle, now 45, is mentally ill. The state cannot execute
someone who is mentally incompetent, but Dunkle's appeals are moving
In Thursday's ruling, the Supreme Court dealt
solely with whether Dunkle's rights were violated at the 1990 trial in
which a San Mateo County jury concluded he deserved to die. The justices
rejected all of Dunkle's legal challenges, including the argument that
he should never have been found mentally competent to stand trial in the
The Supreme Court said there was sufficient expert evidence
presented at the time to suggest Dunkle could understand the
proceedings. Dunkle's sanity has been an issue since he was arrested in
1986 for the Peninsula murders of 15-year-old John Davies and
12-year-old Lance Turner. Dunkle eventually confessed to killing Davies
in 1981, Turner in 1984 and a 12-year-old boy in Sacramento in 1985.
Thursday's ruling is only the first stage in Dunkle's long appellate
process, which is likely to take another decade or more in the state and
Execution ruling could change killer’s fate
By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff
October 12, 2004
Should the state execute a condemned inmate who believes there is a
computer in his brain and a telephone in his shoulder? A former Belmont
resident may force state courts to decide.
Jon Scott Dunkle shocked the sleepy Peninsula community after he was
arrested and convicted of killing two teenage boys. In 1990, a jury
decided Dunkle should die himself for the crimes. Now, more than a dozen
years later, the state Supreme Court may decide Dunkle, now 41, is not
mentally fit enough for lethal injection.
California’s high court will decide within the next three months how to
define retardation and if condemned inmates meeting the standard should
be executed. The case of a Los Angeles gang member condemned for the
1982 murders of two rivals was heard Tuesday and is the state’s litmus
test on the issue. The decision will create ripple effects through death
row, possibly commuting dozens of sentences to life in prison or
confirming a belief that heinous crimes merit death regardless of mental
Of the 16 inmates San Mateo County sent to San Quentin’s death row,
Dunkle springs to mind easiest as one case where a claim of retardation
might eventually be ruled valid by the courts.
Dunkle was arrested after the body of Lance Turner, 12,
was found fatally stabbed 23 times at Water Dog Lake in October 1984.
During the investigation, police learned Dunkle also killed John Davies,
15, in November 1981. The murder of Sean Dannehl, 12, in Sacramento
County was added to the tally after his trial for the two Belmont cases.
Former San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Judith Whitmer Kozloski
declined to find Dunkle incompetent for trial and the jury convicted him
on two counts of first-degree murder Dec. 6, 1989. The follow February,
the jury confirmed a death sentence. An extra life sentence was added
after Dunkle pleaded guilty to fatally stabbing Dannehl.
Dunkle’s mental state has been in question since nearly day one despite
Whitmer Kozloski’s refusal to suspend criminal proceedings. The original
competency finding does not preclude his abilities having declined since
his incarceration. Often, an inmate will claim a declining condition
exacerbated by prison conditions. In Dunkle’s case, those claims include
a notion he has a computer in his head.
During Dunkle’s trial, District Attorney Jim Fox acknowledged the young
man was not even at average mental capacity, Chief Deputy District
Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.
“I believe it was borderline retardation,” he recalled.
The prosecution presented one doctor who testified Dunkle, regardless of
IQ, knew what he was doing at the time of each murder. Since his time on
death row, though, even courts are agreeing Dunkle can’t help in his own
During a 2000 appellate hearing, Whitmer Kozloski
admitted to the court Dunkle was too mentally ill from paranoid
schizophrenia to help in his own defense. In the four-page order,
Whitmer noted he suffered from delusions and disorganized thinking.
“I have to say that I would like to find Mr. Dunkle competent because I
think what he did is so horrible that he should suffer whatever
consequences have been meted out to him ... but I honestly cannot say
that I think he is competent,” she said, according to court transcripts.
Two years later, Dunkle became the first adult California inmate on
death row to have a guardian appointed for him. The role of Southern
California attorney Conrad Petermann is to help Dunkle understand his
current predicament and continue to fight for an appeal of his
convictions. The guardian can legally access Dunkle’s medical records
without his specific consent and make serious legal decisions.
The judge’s concession and the guardian’s appointment did not offer
Dunkle a reprieve from execution, at least until this latest pending
ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 it was unconstitutionally
cruel to execute murderers deemed retarded but left the definition of
retardation to individual states. Last year, the state Legislature
banned executions of the mentally insane and incompetent but did not set
a specific IQ level. In other states, retardation has been generally
defined at 70 or below.
The potential state court ruling will not alter the way the District
Attorney’s Office currently does business, Wagstaffe said. While mental
competency will remain a concern, the ruling won’t spark any more
stringent considerations or outside mental evaluations.
Under California law, only defense attorneys can compel a witness to
undergo psychiatric testing prior to trial. The results are not
necessarily shared with prosecutors unless they are favorable to the
defense. While local prosecutors have compassion for the plight of
mentally ill inmates, decades of using judicial loopholes to sidestep
executions left then wary of this latest wrinkle.
“It’s something that has to be looked at. If it is truly there, it is a
valid consideration to be dealt with,” Wagstaffe said. “But if it is
simply a tool to avoid execution, it is just another aspect of justice
Man given death for County murders may not die
Judge who sentenced Dunkle finds he's too deranged to assist in appeals,
gives him guardian
By Maura Dolan - Los Angeles Times
Monday, September 16, 2002
A death row inmate who claims there is a computer in his
head and a telephone in his shoulder is so mentally ill that the
California Supreme Court has appointed a legal guardian for him.
The appointment, quietly made by the Supreme Court in a closed
conference, is unprecedented in California and may affect whether the
inmate can eventually be executed. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that
it is unconstitutional to execute the insane.
The court appointed a guardian for Jon Scott Dunkle, 41, on the advice
of a Superior Court judge whom it had asked to determine his current
mental state. That judge, who found Dunkle mentally incompetent, had
presided over Dunkle's 1989 murder trial and sentenced him to death --
despite the defendant's repeated commitments to a mental hospital and
defense attorneys' contentions that he frequently lost touch with
Dunkle, who was convicted of murdering three boys -- two in San Mateo
County, is so deranged that he cannot fully understand the nature of his
legal appeals or assist his lawyers, San Mateo County Superior Court
Judge Judith Whitmer Kozloski reported to the California Supreme Court
in March 2000.
The Supreme Court gave Dunkle a guardian this summer so
his medical and school records could be obtained by his defense lawyers
without his consent.
The appointment raises questions about whether Dunkle, diagnosed with
paranoid schizophrenia, was really ever sane enough to stand trial for
his crimes and whether he will ever be stable enough to be executed.
"We think we have the craziest client on the row," said Michael B.
Dashjian, one of Dunkle's lawyers.
The court's action in the case is expected to result in more petitions
for guardians from other mentally ill death row inmates. A legal finding
that a condemned prisoner is mentally incompetent can help defense
lawyers build a case against execution.
"If a person is really crazy, he shouldn't be tried, let alone be
convicted," Dashjian said. "We certainly believe that Jon Dunkle never
should have been tried."
Court records and transcripts of interviews with psychiatrists depict
Dunkle as a man who can express a coherent thought in one breath and
burst into gibberish the next. Absorbed by his own hallucinations,
Dunkle wants neither a radio nor a television in his cell. He is
When asked by a San Quentin psychiatrist in 1998 why he banged his head
against the wall, Dunkle said: "I wasn't getting along with the computer
He told another psychiatrist that he was being medicated because "the
computers, they are getting arrested. The technicians, they are making
people smaller. Five inches tall. The CIA is doing it."
Faced with a client who psychiatrists say hears voices and suffers
delusions, defense lawyers told the California Supreme Court in 1996
that Dunkle was too unsound to assist in preparing a constitutional
challenge to his death sentence.
The court appointed Kozloski, who had sentenced Dunkle to death in 1990,
to hear testimony to determine his current mental condition.
She presided over his 1989 trial for the murders of the two boys in San
Mateo County. Fifteen-year-old John Davies was murdered in 1981, and 12-year-old
Lance Turner was murdered October 1984 in the Belmont Hills.
Kozloski believed that Dunkle was faking mental illness. A jury found
him mentally competent at the time, even though he was often incoherent
and insisted at one point that his first trial lawyer had murdered a
Kozloski's change of heart came reluctantly.
"I have to say that I would like to find Mr. Dunkle competent, because I
think what he did is so horrible that he should suffer whatever
consequences have been meted out to him," Kozloski said in court. "But I
honestly cannot say I think he is competent."
Deputy Attorney General Rene Chacon, who is representing the prosecution
in Dunkle's appeals, did not object to Kozloski's finding of current
mental incompetence. He called her decision reasonable.
Asked whether the inmate will ever be sane enough to be executed, Chacon
said: "In California, you can't execute a mentally incompetent person,
and the guy cycles back and forth, so I don't know."
He acknowledged that the appointment of a guardian has given defense
lawyers more ammunition to overturn Dunkle's death sentence on the
grounds that he also was mentally incompetent when he was tried for
murder. A person is deemed incompetent if he or she cannot understand
the nature of the legal proceedings and cannot cooperate with lawyers.
But Chacon said the appointment of a guardian also serves the
prosecution, because it will expedite the legal proceedings and the
production of a habeas corpus petition.
The California Department of Corrections has been giving Dunkle
antipsychotic medication against his will since 1996.
Kozloski believes that Dunkle's mental state has deteriorated since his
murder trial. And in reviewing his mental status for the state high
court, she gave no indication that she thought she had erred by
sentencing a mentally incompetent man to death.
When a prosecutor insisted that Dunkle's condition was essentially the
same as when he was found competent to stand trial for murder 10 years
earlier, Kozloski objected.
"I see a qualitative difference between his 1989 ability," she said
during a hearing Nov. 3, 1999.
Semel said the legal threshold for competency to stand trial "is so
invariably low that it repeatedly allows people who cannot meaningfully
assist their lawyers to go forward to trial."
In Dunkle's case, the jury that found him competent to stand trial knew
that he was charged with murdering two boys in San Mateo County and a
third in Sacramento.
Dunkle had confessed to his crimes and led police to Davies' body in
Edgewood Park near Redwood City. All but one mental health expert who
interviewed him before his competency hearing in the summer of 1989
concluded that he had a major mental illness, according to his appeal.
While housed in a county jail in San Mateo County before and during his
trial, Dunkle had several psychotic breakdowns. In May 1987, officials
said he was hallucinating and wanted to kill himself and have his body
displayed in front of the jail. He said that would prevent the building
from being blown up.
By the time Dunkle was sentenced in 1990, he had been sent from the jail
to a mental hospital five times, Dashjian said.
"He would leave court and go back to the mental health facility,"
Dashjian said. During one court proceeding, "he was completely off the
wall, ranting and waving and saying the most incomprehensible word
Dunkle's lawyers are not sure when his mental illness began, even though
they have interviewed members of his family. He could not function well
in elementary school, and reports indicated that he had learning
disabilities. At the age of 22, he was admitted to a hospital because he
injected bacon grease into his penis in an attempt to enhance its size.
Besides the death sentence for the two murders in San Mateo County,
Dunkle is serving life without the possibility of parole for the fatal
stabbing of a 12-year-old boy in Sacramento.
He was found mentally incompetent to stand trial in Sacramento in March
1993 and was committed to Atascadero State Hospital. A judge later
decided he was sane enough to plead guilty while he was under medication.
If Dunkle loses his appeals, he still may escape execution if his
lawyers can show that he does not understand that he will be put to
death and the reasons for it. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that
it is cruel and unusual to execute a prisoner who is insane.
Dunkle would then probably spend the rest of his life either in prison
or in a state hospital for the criminally insane.
California Justices Appoint a Guardian for Condemned
For the first time ever in California, the state supreme court has
appointed a guardian ad litem to make crucial decisions for a death row
inmate declared incompetent to assist in his own defense.
The high court voted 5-0 last week to name Beverly Hills, Calif., solo
practitioner Conrad Petermann as the official guardian of his own client,
convicted San Mateo County murderer Jon Scott Dunkle. Justices Kathryn
Mickle Werdegar and Janice Rogers Brown were absent and didn't vote.
Both Petermann and San Francisco Senior Assistant Attorney General Dane
Gillette, who supervises all the state's capital cases, agreed Tuesday
that the California Supreme Court's decision sets a precedent.
"It's the only time we know of that it's happened," Petermann said.
Added Gillette: "I believe that's true in California. I have never seen
it, with but one exception in which a federal court granted a 'next
friend' motion based on a conclusion that there was some question on the
competence of the inmate."
But while Gillette and the defense bar agree on the precedent-setting
nature of the court's decision, they disagree on its significance or
impact. Gillette said Dunkle's case is "unique," and he doesn't
anticipate a flood of similar grants, while San Francisco solo John
Philipsborn, Petermann's co-counsel, called the decision a "potentially
"There's been a question about whether courts should be concerned about
whether someone is competent to assist counsel during the years of
appeals and habeas corpus [representation]," Philipsborn said. "And this
one-page order signals, at least in California, the court does have
concerns for post-conviction competence issues."
The order could also raise future questions about whether an inmate who
is too incompetent to assist his counsel is also too incompetent to be
executed -- especially in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision
last term banning the execution of the mentally retarded.
The court's July 24 order provides a guardian for Dunkle, a middle-aged
man convicted of murdering two Belmont, Calif., boys -- John Davies, 15,
in November 1981, and Lance Turner, 12, in October 1984. Both were
brutally stabbed, Turner 23 times.
Dunkle's competency was questioned at trial, but San Mateo County
Superior Court Judge Judith Whitmer Kozloski refused to declare him
incompetent. Jurors convicted Dunkle of two counts of first-degree
murder on Dec. 6, 1989, and he was sentenced to death the following Feb.
Dunkle subsequently pleaded guilty to the 1985 first-degree stabbing
murder of 12-year-old Sean Dannehl in Sacramento County and was
sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Petermann had been trying to be named Dunkle's guardian ad litem since
April 1996, but got nowhere until the high court assigned a trial court
judge to conduct a competency hearing. Ironically, the judge was
Kozloski, the same San Mateo County jurist who refused to declare Dunkle
incompetent at trial.
At the appellate level, however, Kozloski relented, and in a four-page
order declared Dunkle incompetent to assist his defense counsel after
hearing testimony that he suffered a form of schizophrenia with symptoms
of agitation, delusional behavior, grandiose ideas, looseness of
association and disorganized thinking. Her decision was made reluctantly,
"I have to say that I would like to find Mr. Dunkle competent, because I
think what he did is so horrible that he should suffer whatever
consequences have been meted out to him or those consequences should be
fulfilled," the judge was quoted as saying during the 1999 hearing. "But
I honestly cannot say that I think he is competent."
She also noted that the appellate hearing into Dunkle's competency at
the habeas level "is without reported precedent."
Even though Kozloski made her recommendation in January 2000, it still
took the high court another 2 1/2 years to reach last week's conclusion.
It probably helped Petermann that the state agreed that Dunkle was
incompetent, asking only that the court name some Dunkle friend or
family member as the guardian.
"The role of defense counsel in a capital appeal is different from that
of a guardian ad litem," San Francisco Supervising Deputy Attorney
General Rene Chacon, who's handling the Dunkle case, wrote the court
nine months ago. "And we think that blurring (or combining) those roles,
rather than identifying and securing the services of a surrogate acting
on behalf of the client vis-à-vis all matters (including his
relationship with counsel) is inadvisable."
On Tuesday, Senior Assistant Attorney General Gillette said he wasn't
surprised by Judge Kozloski's flip-flop on Dunkle's competency.
"Competency can fluctuate, and there are a lot of cases where [defendants]
can be found to be competent to stand trial, and then later found not to
be competent," he said. "That may well be what happened here. [Dunkle]
may have been fully competent at the time of trial, and developed
different problems at this time."
While Gillette maintained that he sees the court's grant as a rare act
not likely to occur again anytime soon, he said he "wouldn't be
surprised" if other death row lawyers make the same argument for their
"It gives authority," he said, "to conduct the habeas litigation for a
defendant who apparently is unable to assist his counsel in developing
any possible collateral grounds."
Petermann said the court's grant gives him a huge opportunity to
represent Dunkle the best he can.
"When you are putting together a habeas petition, it's important to have
your client's input and help you develop what needs to be developed, and
in this instance our client has not been able to do that," he said. "We
couldn't even get copies of documents because he wasn't able to give us
In written arguments to the court, co-counsel Philipsborn pointed out
examples of the value of a guardianship for Dunkle. While working up
Dunkle's case, he noted, Petermann had been denied access to documents
such as prison medical records and grade school psychological
assessments that might have bearing on Dunkle's current condition.
Dunkle, he wrote, "has not been competent, or able, to sign waivers of
confidentiality, and the like, that are a routine part of the
Philipsborn cautioned, though, that he could be wrong about the possible
wider effect of the court's action.
"By issuing a simple order, as opposed to an opinion, the court was
clearly trying to keep the implications of this case contained," he said.
"In other words, there was no published opinion.
"But," he added, "the fact that the court issued the order clearly means
the court recognizes that in certain cases it's going to have to address
post-conviction, deep-seated mental disorders exhibited by someone --
particularly in a death penalty case."
SEX: M RACE: W TYPE: N MOTIVE:
MO: "Thrill killer" of